KENNA’S RED VIEW: WE FAILED AT SPURS DUE TO RUBBISH MIDFIELD AND POOR DEFENSE
I won’t lie Wednesday night’s 2-0 loss to Spurs was a bad bad one..Make no Mistake we were beaten by a better-balanced opponent and an occasion were if the game continued for 2 days we would still have ended up on the losing side.
Paul Pogba marauded weirdly for an hour, like a free radical in what was supposed to be a rigid two-man central midfield. With 66 minutes gone he could be seen jogging off, not injured just ineffective on the night. Unable to influence much in our favor.
Then there was Phil Jones: This is a footballer whose professional life has been measured out in by how many injuries he has had. Tottenham’s second goal had come from Jones’s own instep midway through the first half, a horrible own goal to follow some weak marking from Chris Smalling for the first. Images tell a powerful story and it will be hard to resist the obvious story here, a tale of wondrously well-resourced midfield and attack let down by the pumpkins we have at the back. Mourinho appears like a man who has spent so much on an expensive Carpet but has failed to fix his leaking roof,
This is only half the story. United’s problems started further forward with an obvious failure in structure and personnel in midfield. Spurs were excellent in the centre, quicker and snappier, better organised, hunting in packs of four, but their excellence was emphasised by a bizarrely unbalanced opposition.
United’s starting 11 featured a midfield and attack with five players signed for a total of £285m. Even as a set of names on a piece of paper it was a thrilling display of power and muscle. It took 11 seconds for Spurs to put a fist through this. The opening goal came from a punted pass, a ricochet, a sudden sight of goal and an instant finish from Christian Eriksen. As the half wore on it began to look less like bad luck plus opportunism, more like a failure of organisation and functionality.
For a while the game was bafflingly open. According to our critics, United are supposed to be dull and defensive away to the bigger teams, as they are also at times at home to bigger teams or indeed the smaller teams. But There is nothing wrong with this. Successful defensive football is still successful football. United came to Wembley having not conceded a goal in six games since Boxing Day.
And yet the striking thing in those opening exchanges was the absence of control, an open midfield with Pogba haring upfield at every opportunity leaving Nemanja Matic to cover the vast lime-green squares of Wembley all by himself.
The second goal arrived via a fizzing little triangle involving Mousa Dembélé, Dele Alli and Eriksen, sucking in the red shirts, then zipping the ball out to the right wing. Jones’s attempt to clear Kieran Trippier’s cross became a wonderful no-look sidefoot finish past his own keeper, clipped in with Ronaldinho-ish nonchalance.
It was bad luck, of course, but it came from Spurs’ excellence in swarming through those spaces in midfield. Soon after Pogba could be seen in animated conversation with José Mourinho. For a while he dropped deeper, playing flatter alongside Matic like he should have done earlier maybe. Clearly this is not really where he wants to be or where his mastery of the ball and those feet that are both whiplash dribbling instruments and purveyors of dreamy floated passes are best placed.
It is an issue of balance Mourinho will face again given the quality in his squad. Some will suggest this is a good problem, maybe Mourinho does not really like elite attacking players, that he prefers fit, strong intelligent players who occupy the fixed points within his carefully stitched design and then who use their initiative to workout what to do. Faced with all this power and attacking possibility he is playing someone else’s game, dragged out of his zone of excellence; forced, awkwardly, to dance to a foreign tune to please purists. On the evidence of Wembley watching him find a solution will be fascinating.